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Islanders Back & Forth: Leave It To Leo; OT Anxiety; Loudmouth Alert

A new weekly look at the Islanders’ most recent - and next few - games. Mostly.

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NHL: FEB 13 Bruins at Islanders
Leave it to Leo.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Four games, two on an early back-to-back against a team coming off an alarming two-week break, and two more against a team we’re already sick of.

First, let’s look back at the (pretty darn good, all things considered) week that was.

Last week for the New York Islanders:

Game 10: 2-0 win over the Rangers

Well that was pleasant. Like everyone else, I was taken aback to learn that Semyon Varlamov is the first Islanders goalie to shutout the Rangers twice in the same season.

If you think back on the various eras, it really isn’t as crazy as it sounds. When the Islanders were dominant in the mid-70’s and early 80’s, the Rangers were pretty good, too. When the Rangers sucked in the early 2000’s, the Islanders were only pretty good. As the rivals fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the years, there was never really a time when the Islanders were very good defensively and the Rangers were ripe for being shutout. At least, before now.

The best thing, of course, is that their offensive failure in tight games is causing a wee bit of concern in RangersTown that few were expecting to see. Gosh, what a shame.

Game 11: 4-3 SO loss to the Penguins

This was unpleasant. At least, it ended up being unpleasant. When Mathew Barzal absolutely vaporized rookie P-O Joseph (no doubt out of revenge for Joseph scoring his first career goal in their last match-up), I thought the game was over. Alas.

Right now, I have zero confidence in the Islanders in either overtime or a shootout. I know they’ve won these games in the recent past (and this game’s OT period was more focused than the two against the Flyers), but something is very off with them once regulation time ends.

As Arthur Staple notes, getting regulation wins is great, not only for denying your opponents bonus points but in terms of tiebreakers. My counterpoint to that is: man, you have Barzal, for crying out loud! Come up with some set plays or something to get some juice in OT.

Game 12: 4-2 win over the Bruins

Leave it to Leo Komarov to go from the waiver wire to the hero in the same day. He was cleared to go to the taxi squad at noon, and by 9:30 pm he had two assists (and one near goal) and a handful of key plays in a huge early season win. Barry Trotz even put up a full throated defense of Uncle Leo and his intangible and often imperceptible talents in his post game comments.

That doesn’t mean I want to see him every day, especially with Anthony Beauvillier on the cusp of returning to the lineup. But credit where it’s due, that line of Komarov, J-G Pageau and Oliver Wahlstrom had a very good game on Saturday, as did all four lines.

I sure as hell didn’t think TWO home wins against the Bruins were possible. Glad to see I was wrong.

Record for the week: 2-0-1

Season Record: 6-4-3

Next week for the New York Islanders:

Monday, Feb. 15 and Tuesday, Feb. 16 at the Sabres

Monday’s game will be the Sabres’ first in several weeks thanks to postponements due to Covid-19. As of now, they still have seven players on the NHL Covid protocol list including three of their top four defenseman (Taylor Hall and Rasmus Dahlin were moved off the list this weekend). Their coach, Ralph Krueger, had been away from the team while he recovered from contracting the virus, but returned to practice on Sunday.

So who knows who the Islanders will actually face in these two games. And who knows how having two weeks off and a full-on outbreak will affect Buffalo.

The Islanders can definitely get four points here. To be honest, I’m concerned about more than just the scores.

Thursday, Feb. 18 and Saturday, Feb. 20 at the Penguins

This will be the final Penguins GM Search Update because, uh, they hired one. I think Ron Hextall will be fine; the Flyers are still reaping the rewards of his tenure, and his downfall seemed to echo that of his former creasemate Garth Snow in that he hung on to a coach well after it was clear that he wasn’t getting the best out of his players.

The Brian Burke hiring (as president of hockey operations) is the one I don’t get because his entire being is very un-Penguins-like. Burke is, above all else, a blowhard. He’s been a successful blowhard in the NHL (more so with Anaheim and Vancouver, less so with Toronto, Calgary and Hartford) but he’s first and foremost a guy who shoots his mouth off first and answers questions later.

Say what you want about the Penguins, but they’ve generally not been a team full of loudmouths. Their natural state is more of a quiet arrogance. They know they’re better than you and they carry themselves so that you know they’re better than you, even in the rare instance of them losing. Mario Lemieux’s “garage league” comment after Fight Night ten years ago last week (!!) was about as demonstrative as the Penguins have ever been as an organization.

Now they’ve got a guy who lives to spout off all kinds of bullshit anytime a microphone is within 200 feet of him. In fact, less than a week into the job, Burke is already making the kind of noise he’s known for. “Long Pants Hockey” must be the new “Truculence.”

I’m not afraid that Burke (or Hextall) will make the Penguins even better in the near term (they’ll be good as long as they have Crosby and Malkin) but I am surprised they’d turn to him, of all people, to establish a new era. Maybe they want one guy to draw the majority of the heat if the franchise is about to go through a rough transitional period.

Predicted record for the week: 3-1. Am I being too optimistic?

Canadian Sportswriters Say The Darnedest Things:

I was all set to dunk on this article by Oilers cheerleader Mark Spector for Sportsnet, but the joke was on me. Mike Smith won both of his starts this week, including a shutout over Montreal on Thursday.

Still, calling Smith Edmonton’s “savior” is the kind of overboiled hyperbole that mainstream Oilers writers have long been known for. There’s a pattern that they follow, one that has taken me years to finally understand.

Edmonton writers always look at everything from the positive. Always. The Oilers can only ever get better. They can never be made worse. Every player added is exactly what they need. Every player removed (hello James Neal on waivers) is addition by subtraction. Nothing they do can ever harm or hinder them. Every loss is a chance to turn it around. The roster has exactly what it takes to win the Stanley Cup except they won’t and it’s pretty clear why.

Smith, despite being 38 and having mediocre first season in Edmonton (.908 save percentage), is a “savior.” Mikko Koskinen has even worse numbers this season and a history of streaky play even within the same game, but just “needs a break” to bounce right back. A bottom six comprised almost exclusively of career non-scoring grinders just need to improve. Guys like Zack Kassian (currently on LTIR) and Kris Russell are making big money not for their questionable production but for their ever-popular intangibles. Ask any Oilers blogger, and they’ll probably tell you that these excuses are poppycock.

Weirdly, the Oilers who Spector likes to criticize are the guys who seem to be doing okay. Last year he wrote that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, both Hart Trophy winners and two of the very best players in the entire league, need to show more “defensive leadership,” whatever that means. So what if the rest of the team bleeds goals against without scoring, right?

The Oilers should be a playoff team this year, but once again they’re relaying on two superstars and a bunch of other guys to get the job done every single night. I don’t know how much longer they can go pretending they’re not wasting McDavid and Draisail’s primes. As long as Mark Spector sees Mike Smith as a “savior,” I guess it won’t stop anytime soon.

Alternate Programming Options:

Remember Behind the Music, the old VH-1 staple of hour-long docu/dramas about why a lot of your favorite bands broke up due to money, ego, drugs, being assholes to each other or all of the above? There was a time when it felt like it was on 24 hours a day but that show hasn’t been seen for quite some time outside of YouTube. Fortunately for those of us that miss it, there’s a current show made in the same spirit that proves money, ego, drugs and being an asshole are just as big a part of rock (and rap and folk and pop) music as ever.

Breaking the Band is exclusive to Reelz, a channel you might already have on your cable package but haven’t noticed before (that’s literally its advertising campaign). If you’re a cord cutter, you can download the free ReelzNow app or use their website and watch episodes from its first two seasons.

And what a list it is. There are episodes focusing on Van Halen, the Eagles, the Police, and Guns N’ Roses, as well as the Spice Girls, the Supremes, the Mamas & the Papas, Sonny & Cher, Smashing Pumpkins and others. The current season features episodes on Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Poison. They all follow the same Behind the Music formula - a band is formed with passion and new ideas, only to crumble under the weight of pressure and everything else - through interviews, archival footage and some (often hilariously awful) dramatizations.

The recreations might either make or break the show for you. They’ve gotten better in more recent episodes, mainly by keeping the actors in the shadows or never having their faces on screen for too long. But you’ll have to either look past the bad ones or really lean into the silliness (i.e. having a tall, lanky, and clearly British actor playing short, non-lanky American Vince Neil in the Motley Crüe episode). Honestly, I love them.

The episodes are all narrated by Long Island’s own Dee Snyder (yes, even the new and very meta Twisted Sister episode) and they’re packed with both new trivia and events you probably know about if you’re a fan of that particular group. If I have a complaint, it’s that some of them end a little abruptly, glossing over huge chunks of time that could also be interesting. The Van Halen episode effectively ends in 1997 when Sammy Hagar is fired, condensing the entire Gary Cherone experiment and later reunions with Hagar and David Lee Roth into the final two minutes of its running time (it was made prior to Eddie Van Halen’s passing last year). The super-sized two hour Aerosmith episode could have been an hour longer since there’s a 20-year gap between the end of the story and today.

I can waste entire weekends watching and re-watching Breaking the Band so I recommend it highly. It’s insane and unbelievable in all the best rock n’ roll ways.

Classic Islanders Clip Just For fun:

Talk about random. November 25, 1986. An early season game played after the end of Islanders dynasty but before the rise of the Penguins... non-dynasty back-to-back Cup seasons. The Islanders won this one 5-1, by the way.